PETALING JAYA: To many people the demise of Malaysian artist Victor Chin is hard to come to terms with.
The 73-year-old was not only a talented painter of local architecture, a filmmaker and a writer, he was also passionate about the conservation of heritage buildings and dedicated his life to heritage and cultural activism.
Chin had been unwell for the last couple of months and was undergoing treatment at a hospital in Kuala Lumpur when he passed away on Nov 14.
Now, those who had worked closely with him to conserve heritage buildings are going all out to ensure that his efforts do not go unnoticed.
Speaking to FMT recently, National University of Singapore (NUS) associate director of architecture conservation Nikhil Joshi said the university and Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority were jointly working to create an award in Chin’s name.
“It will carry his name and encourage future generations to draw and look at buildings through a different lens,” said Joshi.
He pointed out that despite Chin’s lack of technical expertise in architecture and conservation, the artist’s “empathy” had enabled him to contribute positively nonetheless in these fields and leave a lasting impact.
“Most architects simply write articles whereas he was active on the ground because he couldn’t bear to see injustice in the world. He was an inspiring figure, not just for me, but my students as well,” he said.
Joshi added that when news of Chin’s demise broke, he was inundated with messages of condolence all the way from the Philippines by students who had briefly met Chin on school field trips but attributed their interest in heritage conservation to the artist.
Joshi also said that he was in the last stages of writing the foreword to Chin’s book that had been in the works for some time. He said the artist had requested he write its foreword in their last meeting this August in Kuala Lumpur.
When reminiscing about their friendship, Joshi said that the two “instantly clicked” when they met. He remembered that it was in 2016 in Songkhla, Thailand when he approached Chin after his presentation on the work that Rakan Mantin was doing for heritage conservation.
Rakan Mantin is a group of activists who have been fighting for the preservation of a tin-mining Hakka village in Negeri Sembilan since 2013. The group is bent on protecting historical and cultural landscapes from indiscriminate demolition.
Joshi said that Chin “was the kind of person who would only take 15 to 20 minutes to show his passion and if you had similar interests, he would share everything he knew”.
Co-founder of Rakan Mantin, Chan Seong Foong told FMT her friendship with Chin was sparked by the group’s activism. She said that they shared an interest in “human rights issues” and were “kindred spirits”, collaborating on similar projects after their meeting.
“He always said, it’s not just art – it’s the art of looking. It’s about driving a message on conservation, communities and people,” said Chan.
She added that Chin had been working on a documentary up until his untimely demise. She said the documentary centred on witnesses to Malaysia’s Internal Security Act 1960 in the 60s, 70s and 80s. She “hoped to bring it to fruition” as most of the filming had already been completed.
“Victor is larger than life and he will live on in all he has touched through his interactions in a deep and meaningful way. Those of us who know him like that will continue his work and energy, which won’t be easy,” said Chan.